06 January 2006

1776, a review

Over New Year's weekend I read David McCullough's 1776. I'm counting it as my first book of 2006 per my latest 26 books per year goal. So, I thought I'd write a short review.

1776: What a Year

After reading this book it would seem that the colonists defeated the British by dumb luck alone. Ok, maybe not dumb luck, but the gods (especially Zeus and Mars) were definitely helping the Americans.

1776 was a difficult year. Faced with lost battles, morale among American soldiers couldn’t have been lower. The colonists were outnumbered by both British forces and Hessian mercenaries who had superior weapons. By a stroke of luck, the colonists, or as McCullough terms them “the rebels”, prevailed.

Remember, they were rebels. Hell, the Sons of Liberty would be considered terrorists today. George Washington was an insurgent leader! Luckily, Washington was blessed with devoted and brave commanders like Nathaniel Green and Henry Knox.

I don’t understand why the British acted with such restraint. It’s as if William Howe thought the rebels would quit, so he didn’t pursue their armies, rather, allowing them to retreat and gather strength. (Those Americans who were captured by the British were either bayoneted on the spot by Hessians or sent to die in prison ships.)

Howe completely underestimated the perseverant and indelible spirit of the rebels.

Britain Going To War

The book begins with King George III riding in his carriage through crowds of excited Londoners ready to address Parliament regarding the rebels in America:

“The rebellious war...is manifestly carried on for the purpose of establishing an independent empire.”

How prescient that statement was. Madison spoke of an empire of liberty, but I don’t think the Founding Fathers ever intended on becoming an actual empire. Funny how that’s turned out. They wanted a republic. I don’t think they ever dreamed of being the world’s sole superpower—the virtual equivalent of the British Empire of the 1800s.

McCullough describes the debate in parliament between Tories and. Whigs. Edmund Burke, the father of conservatism, was against the war. Burke’s protégé Charles James Fox accused King George of losing “a whole continent”. Parliament voted to go to war and crush the rebellion, with those in favor 2 to 1, much like the U.S. Congressional October 2002 Iraq war vote.


McCullough gives a detailed description of military battles beginning with the American siege of Boston and the loss of New York City to the British. I could imagine the awe an American soldier felt seeing 400 gun ships of the Royal Navy sailing into New York Harbor. That would send a shiver down my spine.

Cunningly, Washington used the night to conceal his troop movements—something that is impossible in modern warfare due to satellite technology. For instance, the nighttime crossing of the Delaware helped lead to victories in the Battle of Trenton and the Battle of Princeton.

All in all, it’s a good read which only took me three days to finish. McCullough gets you into the minds of the generals on both sides of the war through letters and journal entries. It’s gripping and reads more like a suspense novel than a history text.

I read wanted to know what would happen next.


I guess you could say this is the "Original Pime". I stopped blogging here regularly in May 2008 (if you don't count the B-Sides diversion - yes it gets confusing) when I joined the Tumblr revolution. Going forward bravely into 2009, this site will serve to house any large image work I produce.

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